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No more handholding, please

Pakistan’s military will do a rethink only when their country is at the receiving end of a similar, but heftier, stick. Bharat Karnad elaborates.

india Updated: Jan 30, 2009 12:23 IST

The Mumbai terrorist attacks of 26/11 produced mutual finger-pointing by surprised agencies, a hurried rearrangement of the security furniture, contradictory statements by political leaders, much huffing and puffing by the Army brass, and little else. Since the 2002 Operation Parakram, there has been the further debilitating trend of trusting the US to do our business. None of this is likely to deter the Pakistan army from continuing to offer similar provocations in the future.

Surely, Pakistan cannot be expected to voluntarily forsake the asymmetric tool of terrorism that has evened the scales vis-à-vis its larger, more powerful, neighbour. The solution also does not lie in conflating the troubles we face with global terrorism and hoping the US will mete out condign punishment. Pakistan is too valuable a strategic ally of the West, notwithstanding initial harrumphing by President Barack Obama.

Therefore, the issue we need to face is our response should Pakistan fail to prevent terrorist attacks, and a Mumbai-type attack recurs. Conventional military retaliation would lead to the usual frustrating impasse on the battlefield and ought to be avoided. Islamabad’s initiation of nuclear weapon use can be ruled out by the fact that Pakistan can’t survive a full-blown exchange. What is most likely to work is a ‘pincer’ policy of simultaneously using low-key, but sustained, targeted intelligence operations to destabilise Pakistan internally and to exploit Pakistan’s position that the Line of Control (LoC) is only a ‘ceasefire line’, by pressuring the Pakistan army with Special Forces (SF) operations in POK, while the Indian Army renders the LoC live with artillery fire, etc. The former set of actions will keep Pakistani society on the boil, and the latter will pin down Pakistan’s army to the LoC.

Pakistan’s military will do a rethink only when their country is at the receiving end of a similar, but heftier, stick. The ISI suffers from overconfidence that its 300-odd ‘sleeper cells’ can create disruption inside India, as its erstwhile chief Major General Hamid Gul told this analyst several years ago. My reverse contention that such activities might bend the democratic Indian polity without breaking it, while a similar Indian strategy will surely snap the brittle Pakistani polity, met with Gul’s rejoinder that Delhi will do no such thing because of its buzdili (cowardice). It seems the Pakistanis have the measure of the risk-averse Indian government. Despite Prime Minister I.K. Gujral’s 1997 directive to the Research & Analysis Wing to shut shop in Pakistan, India has retained its intelligence assets. If given the go-ahead to fuel Baluch, Baltistani, and Sindhi nationalism against Punjabi domination, and exacerbate the Sunni-Shia strife, they can
quickly widen the schisms within Pakistan.

The other arm of the pincer mandates an upping of the Army’s SF component, along with a separate Special Forces Command in the Defence Ministry. At present, the Army insists on under-using the SF and that too for non-strategic purposes. The Indian SF is competent in limited domains, and its questionable tactics were evidenced, for example, in handling the urban terrorist guerrilla menace during 26/11.

Indications from the US are not encouraging. In her confirmation hearings, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, startlingly conjoined India and Pakistan, likening the ‘India-Pakistan’ tangle over Kashmir with the hyphenated ‘Israel-Palestinian’ tussle. Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, did the same, identifying the Kashmir issue as requiring US intervention. Clinton’s dual hyphenation apparently means that her advisors see Kashmir as analogous to the Palestinian state, except the Kashmiri people are denied their rights of self-determination while the Palestinians are constrained by a Hamas government intent on provoking Israel into destroying the Palestinian state.

In this policy equation, Palestinians at least have a State; the Kashmiris don’t and, therefore, the US needs to pressure India either into ceding them nationhood or accepting US or UN mediation. This is an extraordinary backsliding in bilateral relations, in double-quick time.

Pakistan couldn’t be happier. The outside mediation it has been unable to achieve by terrorist means, may be delivered to it on a platter. These developments segue into statements by LeT leaders in Pakistan that once Kashmir attains freedom, there will be no cause for terrorism against India, a construction the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband echoed during his India visit and which may be the curtain-raiser to the new US policy. The geostrategic motives and realpolitik driving American foreign policy are not appreciated in Delhi. Where is the Indian government’s conviction that Washington is out to serve India’s interests coming from? On terrorism, as on much else, we will discover soon enough that we have only ourselves to rely on.

(Bharat Karnad is Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and the author of India’s Nuclear Policy)